And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: every tree therefore which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down…
"The axe is laid unto the root of the trees" in the East with a significance which we can hardly understand in the West. It is not merely because the tree cumbers the ground in a physical sense; to even shade-trees-trees of any sort — are greatly to be desired throughout the Holy Land. But the fruit-trees are all taxed; and if unfruitful, they are a heavy incumbrance. If a tree bears no fruit, it brings its proprietor in debt, and that to the most merciless of creditors, a tax-farmer. Some four years ago, when the taxes were heavy and the olive product light, multitudes of olive-trees were cut down on the spurs of Lebanon. It was cutting off the owners' means of support in the future; but that was still in the future, and uncertain. In the immediate present, all that the proprietor could see was cruelty, oppression, and taxes. Future starvation was not a heavier burden than present hunger, with debt as a load above it. It is probable that this is just the same sort of cumbering the ground which was the troublesome one in old times. Space could be spared in the ground for a tree whose only use was ornament; wild trees are still allowed for that purpose; but a fruit-tree which bore a tax is quite a different matter, and probably was so then. The fruit-trees paid a religious tithe; and the secular government could scarcely have been less exacting. The tax on fruit-trees, too, is a heavy one. Read any recent work on the political condition of Egypt, and see how much every palm must pay. Travellers are often surprised at the extra charges which they have to pay — more than the natives — for the use of a horse or a boat; but they forget that the Government is on the look-out for those who own the boat or the horse, and is apt to get the lion's share of all such seeming extortions.
(Professor Isaac H. Hall.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.